South Hams District and West Devon Borough Council recently asked the Local Government Association to send in a Peer Review team to assess how well the Councils are performing.

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Issued: Tuesday 5 February

A Peer Review team is a group of highly experienced councillors and officers with areas of special expertise, who are invited into a fellow local authority to do a comprehensive review.    

At the end of 2018, a team of eight officers and councillors from councils around the country, spent four days in Totnes and Tavistock. During this time, they met with Council staff, interviewed residents, met with businesses and reviewed how the Councils' work. Overall, the Peer team spent over 260 hours in discussion during their time with the Councils.   

They looked in detail at the needs of the local areas, the current local leadership, the organisational leadership, financial sustainability and the Councils' ability to deliver services. 

Today the Peer Review team has published its report and the leadership team of both Councils say it demonstrates the enormous journey that the Councils have been on in the last five years and the relentless commitment of the staff to make a difference.  

The very first line of the report published today says that, "South Hams and West Devon Councils have been characterised by their energy and creativity, promoted by the political commitment to drive change".

The report goes on to state that, "it is to the credit of the Head of Paid Service and the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) that they have steered this organisational transformation, during a difficult period, to achieve the original objectives set, and to create the springboard for the future." 

Cllr John Tucker, Leader of South Hams District Council said: "I am thrilled with the report, when you turn a mirror on yourself and you recognise what you see, it can be very reassuring that we are on the right lines and moving in the right direction. 

"The Peer Review Team have also given us members some clear guidelines for the future to help us continue evolving. This report provides a clear set of recommendations for the new Council to build on after the local elections in May".

Cllr Philip Sanders, Leader of West Devon Borough Council said: "Now was the perfect time for us to have this review.  We have largely completed our transformation programme (T18), and have achieved huge savings for West Devon and South Hams, a combined annual saving of £4.4 million a year.  But what we need now is to recognise that that phase is over.

"Our organisation and are staff have made huge improvements, but we still have budget pressures and we still have to respond to the changing needs of our communities. Now is the time to look to the future, reset out priorities and push on." 

The recommendations laid out in the report include setting good foundations for the new incoming set of councillors at the next local elections, they stipulate that the councils should have good corporate planning and vision, which included a suggestion to restarting the joint working groups of councillors between South Hams and West Devon.

It also suggests that the organisation should reinstate the role of Chief Executive instead of the two Executive Directors, to drive the Councils into the future.  This decision is being discussed by both Councils in February.

The report was very complimentary of the work carried out on the Joint Local Plan with Plymouth and the waste procurement contract which was agreed at the end of 2018.  The report stated that this work was "a model for how members from both Councils worked effectively together... and is one model for members working across both Councils that could be replicated to good effect".

Alan Goodrum, the Lead Local Government Association Peer, said to councillors and staff from South Hams and West Devon: "The Councils have a great culture, with energy and creativity demonstrated during our time with you.  We're really impressed with the Joint Local Plan and Member / Officer relationships have worked really well to deliver this. There are some very good building blocks in place, the future is in your hands, members and officers working together can shape the future of the two Councils."

The full report can be found at Peer Review Report 2018/19.